First Plant the Sapling: Tu B’shvat and Our Spiritual Intention

Are you in automatic-drive?  Do you sometimes recognize a void where intention should exist?  This quest is at the root of our congregation’s Jewish Meditation offerings, Fridays 5-5:30 pm, Saturdays 9-9:10am and monthly 2nd Wednesdays 6:00-7:00 pm.
The other day, as I was driving east on Spring Garden Street from RS to a congregant’s home at 2nd and Locust Streets, I automatically turned into the right turn lane to prepare to turn off onto 6th Street.  Why did I start to turn at the wrong place?  I knew it wasn’t 2nd Street, but I am used to driving to my in-laws’ on 6th, so that’s where my car automatically goes. Does your car ever just go somewhere? Do you ever go into the next room for a purpose, and then, distracted with three other ideas, forget what it is that brought you there?  Do you ever sit before a plate f food and start inhaling it, without really thinking about what you are eating?  Of course you have; we all have.  It is natural to move through life in automatic drive and to neglect the intention of the present moment.
This week, our Jewish calendar brings us an opportunity to refocus on intention.  At first glance, the holiday of Tu B’shvat, seems humorous.  A new year for the trees in January (sometimes February)?!  In Israel, the rainy season will soon come to an end and the sap will have begun to rise.  Although the trees will not yet be in bloom for a bit more time, the preparation for their growth is not taken for granted; it is marked with a holiday.
On the other side of the world, outside of Israel, it can be hard to relate to this timing for the new year for the trees. Perhaps that is why the medieval Jewish mystics developed an experiential Tu B’shvat experience; some enact an actual seder.  Formal seder or informal Tu B’shvat tasting, either way, the mystics guide us toward mindfulness. They separate special foods into four species.  Fruit with a shell and a pit, fruit with a pit but no shell, fruit with a shell but no pit, and fruit with neither shell or pit. In addition to enjoying strawberries, mangos, almonds, dates and more, we approach each food with an appreciation for what it is and what it is not. Such awareness teaches a Jewish message of mindfulness.  The new year for the trees becomes a new year for our intention.
The ancient rabbis teach: “If a sapling were in your hand and you were told that the Messiah had come, first plant the sapling, then go out to greet the Messiah.”  Even in honoring the Messiah, who is meant to usher a new world of peace, we ought to focus on the task at hand, the present moment.  One thing at a time, and then maybe, we can do that thing right, with intention.

In a recent Bulletin article, our congregant Mel Seligsohn asked, what is Jewish about meditation?  Judaism offers authentic, traditional approaches to mindfulness for us to employ throughout the day and throughout the year, Tu B’shvat and beyod. I hope you will join us for our congregation’s meditation offerings, designed to bring us together, to root us in tradition an to help us pay attention.  In this new year for the trees, may we renew our intention to the present moment.